Bellwether – David J. Toscano
(Nov 2022) I love this book! I told the author, David Toscano, that I wanted to crawl between the pages and curl myself up in it.
I started reading Bellwether: Virginia’s Political Transformation, 2006-2020 on November 12, 2022, tucked up in a chair in a mountain cabin in Greene County, VA. Four days earlier, on November 8th, I was elected Mayor of the City of Fairfax, VA. It was a close race and I hadn’t read a book in the four months of campaigning leading up to Election Day. I was starved for a book in which to immerse myself and this was the perfect balm for a weary soul.
The people and events in this book are not unknown to me. Many of these elected leaders are friends, people I know because I worked on their campaigns to get them elected to our state government. What was new is the perspective of what happened from an insider’s point of view. David Toscano was in the room where it happened.
The author’s writing style made it easy to read and I loved the voluminous footnotes at the end of each chapter. Many are very detailed and added a level of depth to events and history this was fascinating without interrupting the flow of the narrative.
I’ve lived in Virginia my whole life, as did my parents, and my paternal ancestors going back to the Huguenots who landed in Manakin Town. My understanding of Virginia’s history and politics is likely deeper and broader than most. When this book talks about “The Virginia Way” I know what that concept means in political terms.
I particularly enjoyed the quotes that started each of the chapters. Chapter 2 is entitled “Virginia Exceptionalism” and this is the quote:
How many Virginians does it take to change a light bulb? Five. One to turn the new bulb and four to talk about how much better the old one was. – Old Virginia Adage
Don’t be surprised if you see that on the wall in the Mayor’s office.
The last chapters of the book tackle governmental reform. There are excellent suggestions there that I embrace. Virginia is slow to change. “The way we’ve always done it” is a force, and inertia is a hard thing to press against. With each election cycle, our elected leaders continue to represent a greater spectrum of thought, perspective, and lived experience. Our government representatives increasingly reflect the makeup of the Virginians who show up at the ballot box. That makes for a truly representative government.
I highly recommend this book as a way to understand recent Virginia history. So much happened in Virginia between 2006 and 2020 that the era is deserving of its own book. David Toscano is a skilled guide and storyteller, and the journey is an enjoyable one.